Why did I lose my faith? How do I find something as equally helpful?
April 22, 2013 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I was born in a very, very devout Christian family. Went to Christian schools and church. For a long time my faith was the most important thing to me and then as I started getting older (18) I began to doubt. This doubt only increased to the point that by the time I was 25 or 26 (I'm 33 now) I became"atheist". Now, I see that faith played a very important role in emotionally stabilizing me and giving me hope and I want something like that back. My question is why did I lose my faith (when all my family still holds it dear)? And how do I find something equally as helpful in my life? Thank you so much!
posted by learninguntilidie to Religion & Philosophy (51 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
And how do I find something equally as helpful in my life?

Read philosophy, read about other religions. Giving up on religion doesn't mean you don't need to figure out why you're here and what you're supposed to be doing. You just don't get those answers from the bible. That's fine. Lots of people live perfectly fulfilling lives never having read it to begin with. But you do need to read something and think about it. Get an intro to philosophy book or take an intro to philosophy class at the local community college to get you started.

Don't necessarily go straight for the Richard Dawkins books or any of the other New Atheist books, either. They're not for everybody and you don't need to agree with them on everything just because you both happen to agree that god doesn't exist.
posted by empath at 8:51 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Religion is not for everyone. That doesn't mean that you are a bad person or there is something wrong with you. The fact that you're asking internet strangers why you lost your faith suggests to me that you feel guilt over what happened. I would respectfully suggest that if you do feel guilt you try to let go of it, because it is unjustified. You believe what you believe, you don't need to be apologetic about it.

I find that volunteer work for a cause I am passionate about gives me hope, and that doing yoga classes helps with emotional stability - the volunteer work gives me a chance to practice at spreading joy and trying to be more selfless, and a sense of cameraderie with others who share my belief in the cause. The yoga gives me a set time each week to reflect on how I am feeling, clear my mind, and meditate on challenges I'm facing. I was not brought up in a religion but I suspect the functions these activities fill for me are filled for others by religion.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:54 PM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

You don't necessarily have to give up your faith, you know. You can just sit down and figure out what faith means to you and what your personal boundaries might be right now -- not even saying that these boundaries will last more than this moment in time.

You might consider another Christian church, like a mainline Protestant group.

You might consider the Unitarian Universalists, who will accept nearly anybody from any background with a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning".

You might consider something like the Quakers, where people share their thoughts as they are compelled to do so in Meeting... or not.

You might look around on a nearby college campus and find some opportunities for more personal experiences, such as meditation or contemplative practice.

For me, the important things are a sense of community around me, a sense of agency within myself, and the space between those two concepts to explore what they mean to me. I don't really believe in Jesus as my savior, but I do believe in him as a sort of Gandhi-like figure whose example we should emulate, and that's cool with the people at my Presbyterian church. And I also believe in the collective spirit and energy that I feel when we are all sitting in the same room focusing our thoughts on good and kind things over the days to come. That is the most powerful thing for me.

The most important thing is finding a good fit for you and your stage in life. You might believe things closer to the Unitarians, but the folks in your area are too granola for you. (Or too formal; that's what my mom thought.) You might like the sense of ritual in an Episcopal or Lutheran church, but the one closest to your house might be having pastoral issues or dealing with internal turmoil. Or it could go the opposite way on both fronts: you could find the most liberal and open-minded congregation in a very formal and old-fashioned setting. Or you could love the church but hate the music they play.

Ask around. Visit different places of worship. See if they follow the "three-minute rule" or similar: after the service, do they talk to the people they already know best, or does someone reach out to you? (Do you want them to?)

Nearly any faith community will offer classes for adults to discuss and share things, whether based on the Bible or not.

And if Christianity or organized religion in general isn't your cup of tea right now, you might try this book, which is based in Christian tradition but is applicable to just about any tradition. My pastor gave it to us when we were doing a premarital counseling session, and even though neither of us are particularly Jesusy, we found that it helped focus a lot of our discussions together about our goals, the things we found meaningful and the small and large things that make up our days.
posted by Madamina at 8:55 PM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Often people talk about the god-shaped hole as a metaphor for the void that (temporarily) exists in them after religion, or the santa-claus shaped hole when people get over santa claus, and part of that is recognising that whatever you replace god/santa with won't quite fit in the same way. Christianity covers both the supernatural and the natural, and science only speaks of the later, so whatever you replace it with you'll probably need to pick and choose your ideas rather than having them handed to you from a single source by fiat. Personally I find science and philosophy are better fit for me.

I'm not sure how we're supposed to suggest how you lost your faith. I can speculate...there are many competing religions and they can't all be true (they making competing claims) and there's no way to distinguish between them. Faith certainly can't distinguish between them. Religions were our species' first attempt at understanding the world, but because it was the first attempt it was also one our worst attempts. When I was very young I realised that religion was rather provincial. People aren't born believing but instead they get it from their surrounding community and family. Immigrants came with their own religion. Most people realise that it's a social phenomenon, an accident of geography, and not a divine insight that means Christians are right and Hindus are wrong.

I'd suggest that taking your time and following what you consider to be the truth is more important than faith.
posted by holloway at 9:02 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Go to church. I don't mean your old church -- I mean create the Church of Learninguntilidie. I have Church of Mochapickle, which these days usually entails going for a long walk in the woods or driving somewhere pretty 1-3 times a week. I use that time to get out in the world, and think, and see what's around me, and smile at people, and pet dogs, and watch the light filter through the tree branches. Some of my friends and family members (both atheist and agnostic alike) have adopted this habit, too. Their churches bear their own names.

I've been doing this for about 12 years. I grew up going to (religious) church every Sunday, and I find having some sort of personal ritual like my old Sunday mornings has been grounding and centering for me.
posted by mochapickle at 9:02 PM on April 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

When you say "devout," do you mean "fundamentalist?" If so, Fred Clark at Slacktivist has written rather extensively about fundamentalist crises of faith. If that possibly describes you, maybe it will help address the "why." (Even if you weren't raised fundamentalist, read that last link; I think it contains good, relevant advice, and I'm not and never have been Christian).

As for the "what's next;" if you're trying to construct a fulfilling-but-nonreligious philosophical worldview, I think you could do a lot worse than to start by reading the complete works of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut, for my money the greatest prophets of human decency since antiquity.
posted by zjacreman at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

It is normal to wander away for awhile in your late teens, early 20's. It's your time in the desert. I never understood how anyone could become an atheist so I'm not much help there. Anyway, you've had time to think about things, you've had time for the voices of your ministers growing up to fade from your head, the only thing that should be left should be the truth. Pray about it. God will get you where you need to go, if only you will let Him. You left him, He didn't leave you.
posted by myselfasme at 9:20 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Faith gives a good external framework, especially when our insides are underdeveloped. It gives us rules to follow, to be a good person. Maybe you're doubting because your internal feelings, beliefs and experiences don't match up with that framework.

Resist the urge to replace one framework with another framework. Instead, find out who you are, what you really believe. Get a private journal, one that no one will ever read, and write honestly about what you believe. Is there a god? Is there heaven? Was Jesus really son of god? Are all religions equal? What are my sexual values? What makes a good person? What moral grey zones am I ok with? etc etc.

Sure, when you're done, explore other religions. Explore atheism too. Just make sure to test it against how you really feel. Don't get swept up by pervasive arguments, or the desire to hand over the reins of your life. Keep friends from all different backgrounds. Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:25 PM on April 22, 2013

My question is why did I lose my faith (when all my family still holds it dear)?

My advice will come from the point of view of a fairly recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy in his late 30s who tries to be as observant as possible. I have been atheist in my life. My journey was a long one that I will not share here to avoid derail, but you are welcome to MeMail me if you think it would help you to know it.

Without knowing a lot more about you and your life experience, no one here can answer the quoted question of why you lost your faith. It would certainly be helpful to know what faith you were in before. Frankly, there are so many messed-up teachings about God in North America that I don't blame people for being totally turned off by Christianity. Ideas about a God who sends unbaptized babies to hell or has a list of the saved and the damned and you can never change lists (double predestination) or a God who says that once you are "saved" that you will go to heaven no matter what you do. It can be simply dreadful.

Do you think the supernatural exists or is bunk? This is a key factor. If you think it is hokum, just pick whatever group of people you think you will like best since doctrine and practice will be irrelevant. If you think the supernatural is real and that God or gods exist, you should seek that out. I do not understand people who say "I choose to believe in a God of X". Well, if God exists, He has certain qualities and not other qualities - what one "chooses to believe" doesn't matter. I think you should seek out what you think is objectively true. Maybe you need some time to figure out what that is. I will say that you can't argue anyone into believing something (or not believing something). That applies to convincing yourself, too.

To your second question, "how do I find something equally as helpful in my life?", that is a bit more complicated. I do not say that I am the member of a religion. I say that I have the opposite of religion. To me, religion is ideas that people make up to try to reach up to God. What I believe I have is a way of life where God wants to reach down to us. In my way of life, the Church is described as a place of healing. To this point, and if you take nothing else from my comment please take this: do not seek out a community that wants you for who you are. Find a community that wants you for who you are going to be.

May it be blessed.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:31 PM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your input. It is very valuable.

To answer a common question:

I was a fundamentalist, Bible was inspired by God, the world was created in six days kind of Christian.
posted by learninguntilidie at 9:38 PM on April 22, 2013

Hi, I'm you. No really, religious family, atheist in the early to mid twenties, in my early thirties. I'm you.

My question is why did I lose my faith (when all my family still holds it dear)?

I don't think anyone can really answer this question but you. I can say that lots of people believe different things than their family. It's part of growing up, you get your own opinions and do your own thinking.

And how do I find something equally as helpful in my life?

Well, what do you feel is missing? Personally, I sort of miss having the community that going to a church gives, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you've got a hobby, there's a close nit community of people out there that share your hobby and like to get together and talk about your hobby, and just generally be a community.

Or maybe you miss the feeling that your life has meaning. Well here's the single best (and hardest) part about being an atheist, you get to decide what the meaning of your life is. You want your life to be about helping others, go help them. You want your life to be about knowledge, spend your time learning. You want your life to be about enjoying the little things, enjoy the heck out of 'em, you can now feel hours of contentment about just how soft flannel sheets are without having to feel guilty. There is nobody that can tell you your life is wasted, because you are the only one that can choose what you value (which is scary).

And, you know the other one, for me at least, is that sense of awe you'd get at church, or thinking about God. I mean, there's just something powerful about that experience. Well, there's a reason that so many atheists are science junkies. You can get that same sense of awe, reverence, and having something bigger than you from the physical universe. I mean just think of the great chain of events that links us to distant stars. We are made of stuff that was in a star, that clumped together (thanks to gravity, quantum physics, and chemistry) then suddenly was reproducing, then was reproducing and reacting to the environment, Then through countless slight variations became self aware. Now to me, that's way more awe inspiring than just being created, but the responsibility to make the best use that self awareness is a million times more demanding than the responsibility to live according to a set of rules someone else laid out.

It is tough, you've been taught how to live by certain rules: where to get companionship, where to turn for advice, what to feel inspired by. Now all those rules no longer apply. It feels like everything's changed. However, you are the same person you were before, you have the same strengths, the same talents, the same emotions, the same passions, but now you get to (not have to, but get to) decide what the best use for them is. The universe is the same as it's always been, and people are the same as they've always been. Really the only difference is now you get to decide what to do about all that.

And please, if you do return to religion, don't do it because it's comfortable and easy. Do it because it's what you sincerely believe.

Enjoy self agency. Feel free to memail me for some great non-fiction books that'll help you regain your awe.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:43 PM on April 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

My journey to atheism has included things like keeping the beliefs - ie, love and forgive, help those less fortunate, comfort others.

Remap your frameworks to a more familiar structure, join a cause you believe in : homelessness, addicts, peace, anything.

Faith is something very personal among many people. Choose your own level of faith or even your own deity. Be yourself and embrace your own ideals. There will be a religion that loves them.
posted by bendy at 9:48 PM on April 22, 2013

The phenomenon of children of Fundamentalists going to college and abandoning the faith is not that uncommon. There are a lot of people on MeFi who had that experience.

But I think your experience is not uncommon either. I think what's happened is that you threw the baby out with the bathwater. Turns out that Fundamentalism is actually a minority position within Christianity, and a lot of the doubts that you had about your faith may have had more to do with the manifest flaws in that particular tradition than with the faith as such. For example, six-day creationism is pretty common in the US, particularly amongst lay people and especially amongst Fundamentalists, but there are entirely orthodox traditions that don't actually believe it. And I'd be willing to bet that a lot of the other things that bugged you are actually things that Christians of other traditions would agree are problematic. Now, with the passage of time, you may be getting to a place where you can make those kinds of distinctions.

If you think that's true, feel free to MeMail me. I've got plenty more to say here. But while above is an appropriate response for this AskMe, discussion further along those lines would be better done elsewhere, I'd think.
posted by valkyryn at 10:06 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

And how do I find something equally as helpful in my life?

You can be a pretty hardcore, no-appreciable-doubt atheist and still cultivate mindfulness and also the oceanic feeling for useful, helpful reasons like increasing the sense that you have more time, or lowering your stress, or because it's probably not a coincidence it's on a lot of lists of what happy people tend to do (see #11).

For cultivating mindfulness, there's some mystical woo factor in Thich Nhat Hanh, but he mostly addresses extremely mundane circumstances with some great insights into how to remind yourself to be open to what's around you. And, again setting aside some woo (Freudian psychology), the name given to the oceanic feeling is all you need to know about where it's available--profound nature encounters or any aesthetic experience that feels sublime and exalting.

If the kind of help you need has to do with moral dilemmas, it's not necessarily theistic to treat religions as interesting moral narratives and guides for personal action, but probably most of how you feel about and act on that kind of thing is conditioned well enough to get by. If you need further impetus, again the habits of happy people point in the direction of gratitude and generosity being things we're pretty well likely to enjoy sharing in, at least with our "in-group" (see also), and so probably the most common problem human beings face there is just learning to extend those habits and feelings toward people who are strange or different, or who are symbolically marked as having lesser status, or who belong to another group--none of which is hard really. Just do that more.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:35 PM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your background sounds similar to mine with a few twists. I was raised Christian. I went to a private Christian school from K - 9th grade. (I didn't even know that people didn't go to church, or that my school wasn't normal until 4th grade.)

However I "lost" my faith much earlier. Around 14. During high school I had Christian friends though, because I didn't want to party, and they didn't either.

I think your question is a good one, and I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer. When I read it I looked at my husband and said, "Huh, how would I answer this if someone asked me?"

Why did you lose your faith?

No idea! That's all up to you. For me it was because I honestly don't believe in anything like "God." I also hated the dynamics in organized religion (the hypocrisy, hatred of "sinners", etc.) I was bullied so bad at my Christian school I came home crying almost every day. My public school hardly had any bullying.

Also I have a very logical view on things. I am not saying all who are religious are not logical, but to me, faith just didn't make sense. I much more believe in science as opposed to "creationism." For example even when I was at my Christian school I was confused why they taught things in biology about cross breeding plants and basics of things like natural selection, but refused the idea of evolution. I also felt much more free and fulfilled being out of my faith.

Most of my family on one side is very religious still, and actually it's difficult for me to tolerate being around them or reading FB posts.

And how do I find something equally as helpful in my life?

Again, all has to be on your basis. For me, the feeling of freedom from the Christian "rules" and "sins" was a breath of fresh air. I have felt like a more fulfilled, happy person after becoming non-religious.

For me, I try to live by a set of my own morals. This again will be personal. I try to treat people with respect, be kind, treat others how they want to be treated, be accepting, etc.

You can make your own set of morals and rules that don't have to abide by a "God" figure or thinking that someone is watching you, or believing in an afterlife. Morals and religion don't have to go together, and they are also similar in regards to how you may live your life.

Another part of my life being fulfilled is being married to my husband. Maybe you can find friends who share a similar background? Having a support network is what some people find appealing in an organized religion.

It is interesting talking to my husband, because he was raised without religion. He is also a good guy with morals, not having been raised on religion. (He has religious family, but his parents are non-religious.) It's interesting to compare viewpoints and childhood stories from being raised so differently, however with our morals and how we want to live our lives, we are very similar.

Start a journal. What is important to you in life? In work? In friends? How do you want to live your life? What traits do you find important? All of these can come together to make your own moral code or life rules. I think that takes a big chunk of what people find important in religion. There are also people who are in touch with their spirit ("spiritual") but do not abide by one religion or believe in a standard higher power, maybe this is the route you can take?
posted by Crystalinne at 10:39 PM on April 22, 2013

You might also be interested in reading Buddhism Without Beliefs, which has a lot of wonderful insights on agnosticism (as distinct from atheism) and the way the dharma (the Buddha's teachings) supplies a method of doing rather than believing in facing the essential ethical and existential and questions of our lives. (I'm a former Catholic, who lost my faith in my mid-20s, fwiw.)
posted by scody at 11:13 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a similar biography. I rejected Christian fundamentalism in my late teens, and I identify as an atheist. About a year ago, I started reading the Bible with some friends, mostly because they had no Biblical literacy and I thought it would be interesting to watch them encounter it. We had no agenda other than discovering and understanding one of the foundational texts of Western culture. We read it from the perspective that it is a collection of documents written by humans responding to their historical context. And it turns out that, read that way, it's a profoundly challenging and interesting book. Much more interesting and complex than I expected, and I'd read it before. I still don't think I'm going to be a religious person, but this new exposure to the Bible has me thinking a lot and much more deeply about religion and faith, and I begin to see the appeal.

So, count me among those above who say that the solution to your problem may well lie with taking a much more serious look at religion. There's a lot more to religion than those fairly simplistic ones that you and I rejected.
posted by chrchr at 11:20 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

What are you not feeling stable and hopeful about specifically? Hard to answer the question without knowing that. But in any case, maybe you lost your faith because you decided you want to discover your own truths rather than just accept unquestioningly what was passed down to you through generations? In other words, maybe you no longer wanted to accept things based on faith but instead accept and believe in things based on other terms, whatever those terms may be (first hand observation, the five senses, empirical evidence, logic, scientific method of discovery and analysis, etc.). Frankly, I have a lot of trouble with the idea of going to the office Monday through Friday and demanding "data, data, data" and then on Sunday doing a 180 and saying "well it's all true because I believe it's true". A lot of people seem to have no problem with that contradiction, but I do and maybe you do too. I feel no need to replace something to gain stability and hope because I wasn't raised the way you were, so you face a different challenge, but from your current perspective, might what you had have been a false sense of stability and hope? If so, maybe that means you need to learn to live with a little less stability and hope, or maybe it means you need to place your faith (in the sense of "confidence") in other things like human goodness, or science, or the power of incremental progress, or a certain political philosophy, or whatever the case may be. Or, is it possible you are suffering from depression and the issue is more of a mental or emotional issue, or even a biochemical issue, rather than an intellectual issue?
posted by Dansaman at 11:31 PM on April 22, 2013

You are asking some very hard questions. I want to focus on two points: (1) possible origins for doubt and (2) the object of hope. For both of these, I will offer some options, drawn from my own experience. And I will join other commentators in welcoming you to memail me for further conversation.

(1) Your post suggests that you lost your faith because you could not sustain practical belief in the face of increasing doubts. Where did the doubts come from? In my experience, doubts came from (a) intellectual difficulties with Christian doctrines and (b) disappointment with repeated failures to experience a connection to God in any meaningful way. The intellectual difficulties were of three basic varieties: roughly positivistic worries about the meaningfulness of God-talk, internal problems with Biblical narratives, and tension between various Biblical claims on the one hand and the results of scientific investigation on the other. For me, though, the emotional difficulties were worse. I really wanted to know God in the way that so many of my family and friends claimed to know God. I wanted genuine mystical experience. I wanted to be Moses: a friend of God who got to see God's face. I prayed a lot. But I didn't really get anywhere. I had this crisis where I thought, "Either God doesn't really exist or God doesn't really love me." Neither option was very palatable, but somehow, the second was much worse than the first.

I don't know if your own doubts came from either of those basic sources, though. Here are a few more. Some people have doubts because the believers around them are hypocrites. I do not recall ever having this experience myself, but I can easily imagine it leading one to doubt. Relatedly, some people have doubts because they know people who fall into a more or less persecuted class, e.g. homosexuals. Not all Christians persecute homosexuals, of course, but if you grew up in a sect that taught that homosexuality is sinful and then had a bunch of homosexual friends, then you might have reason to doubt the teachings about homosexuality and hence doubt the teachings of Christianity more generally. After all, if the teachings about homosexuality are wrong, then maybe all the rest are wrong, too. Again, this wasn't my own experience. I didn't get to really know any homosexuals until I had already had and (temporarily, at least) resolved my crisis of faith. Another alternative source of doubt might be friends who are not Christians but are nonetheless very good people. This one mattered to me, though not as much as it should have. I had a friend in high school who was Buddhist, and he was consistently one of the best people I have ever known.

Recommendation: Think back and see if you can figure out where and how your doubts originated. That should help you to understand why you lost your faith.

(2) You say that faith played a very important role in emotionally stabilizing you and giving you hope. My question: Hope in what or hope for what? Did you have hope that you would live forever? Hope that you would see God? Hope that good people would be rewarded and bad people punished? Hope that you would see dead loved ones again? Hope that your suffering mattered to someone? ...

Until you know what you were hoping for, you are going to have a very hard time replacing it. Unfortunately, I have much less to say here than I did for the first point. Probably because I don't think I have resolved this issue satisfactorily for myself.

Recommendation: Ask yourself what things you thought were going to happen or be brought about. Ask whether any of those things gave you comfort and/or emotional stability. Could you continue to believe that those things will happen or be brought about without taking on board the things about Christianity that led to your doubts? If yes, great. If not, you can at least ask a more focused question about what other sorts of things might give you comfort or stability in the future.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:33 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I never understood how anyone could become an atheist so I'm not much help there.

Even the Pope was born an atheist. None of us have any beliefs about gods when we are little, it's all learned stuff. This might be a helpful way of looking at the OP's problem. Even for a fundamentalist, religion is not an intrinsic part of you. You were an atheist all along, and now as an adult you have the power to fill your life with things that bring you pleasure, a sense of belonging and a feeling of purpose. This requires finding out what your values are and then acting on them each and every day. ACT-based self-help books and even some actual therapy might help you navigate this process. They have certainly benefited me in other areas of personal development.
posted by Orchestra at 11:44 PM on April 22, 2013

Is it wise to presume that the ideas you picked up in childhood, the first things we learn about some matter, are going to be the correct ones? Why should we presume that we're lucky enough to happen upon a right answer immediately, or that it'll just be handed to us, especially when it involves so many non-obvious things?

It's natural to change your opinion over time. As Blake wrote: The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.
posted by JHarris at 12:07 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the thoughtfulness you put in your answers.

I can see that I really am asking tough--if not impossible questions of strangers, especially, "Why I lost my faith?". But, I am grateful for your attempts.

Anyone born in a fundamentalist home knows that doubt is akin to something almost evil, i.e. "The Doubting Thomas". So to answer the question I posed regarding why I lost my faith, I suppose I have seen my doubt (loss of faith) in a negative light all this time. Feeling like it brought me away from the very thing that gave me identity (my relationship with God) and my family. There is a whole lot of shame and disconnect when one doubts and disbelieves.
posted by learninguntilidie at 12:15 AM on April 23, 2013

Response by poster: To answer questions posed:

Doubt: The doubt I am referring to is doubt about God's existence. Eventually this doubt contributing to me just losing faith.
Hope: Maybe I should have referred to this as peace/hope. Peace that I'm okay. Peace that God will take care of everything. And, hope, that, "God had a plan for my life"

When I lost my faith, in a sense, I lost my sense of peace/hope.
posted by learninguntilidie at 12:30 AM on April 23, 2013

hi. what you've experienced is sadly rather common for those coming from a fundamentalist background. it's quite all or nothing about a lot of things that, dare i say it, are not fundamental to the faith. the problem is with the way you were taught to read the bible--the problem is not the bible. the problem with a "literal" interpretation of the bible is that it doesn't hold up. then, because you were probably taught it has to all be literally true and if there are any "mistakes" then the whole veracity of the bible and your faith is called into question and must not be true. that is total b.s. and no i'm not even a liberal. i like to joke that if we are to read the bible literally then jesus is a slab of wood. john 10:9. see, you had to interpret that verse and read it in context to make it make any sense, but its meaning is probably so obvious to you that you didn't realize you were in fact interpreting the passage.

the truth of the matter is it is impossible not to interpret the bible. this does not mean it is filled with errors or that you will be picking and choosing your truth, but rather that one has to get serious about how to read the bible. the fundies and the liberals are just two sides of the same coin. take heart though because there is a third way. while i believe the bible is true it does need to be read in context and interpreted. when that is done so, especially reading it not from a modern western 20th century worldview but rather a first century jewish viewpoint, it makes a lot of sense.

does that mean you will understand everything? no. definitely not. there are many passages where we just don't have the whole picture and will be left wondering what they mean. that is okay. it is honest. when we don't know what something means we admit we don't know. get comfortable with uncertainty and tension. another thing you need to get comfortable with is paradox. jews were big on paradox. first century jewish culture is extremely different from the 20th century modern western culture which is how most people today have been taught to read the bible and why they think it is a joke. it's like a scientist trying to read dr. seuss. it ain't going to work and you have to respect the genre of the book. a literal 6 day creation? um, hello the bible is not a science textbook. it is about the why of creation the meaning of the universe not the how. personally, i could care less about the how but ymmv.

you have your homework cut out for you and it will probably take a fair bit of time to make sense of all you were taught. here are some books i think will be helpful for you. i did not come out of a fundie background but i hung around some online. yes, these books are from the emerging church movement. yeah, you probably heard that was from the devil. not so, the emerging conversation was very good in the beginning before it veered leftward becoming more liberal. it started out balanced and as a critique of the modern ways of doing church. it is the both/and rather than the either/or. fyi: postmodernism in not moral relativism. i know, you were probably taught that it was. i was too. trust me on that one.

start with a new kind of christian
then, read how to read the bible for all its worth and maybe the blue parakeet
definitely read a primer on postmodernism
then, read either beyond foundationalism or beyond liberalism and fundamentalism. these two are key for you.
other excellent reads:
the younger evangelicals
streams of living water
anything by n.t. wright

most importantly, tell God where you are at and ask him to guide you. He will. just be open to his guidance and what he wants to say. if you do you will likely end up with a faith that is way better than you could ever have imagined or asked for.
posted by wildflower at 12:33 AM on April 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your response actually reminds me of a couple other things that may help:

Doubt: The doubt I am referring to is doubt about God's existence. Eventually this doubt contributing to me just losing faith.

This part is kind of difficult for me. When I look back on it, it seems that one day it all just clicked and I said, "I don't believe in God." However I totally understand the feelings of "doubt being the devil trying to tempt you..." stuff. I think that is again your faith (or previous faith) affecting your current feelings. Try to separate the two.

Hope: Maybe I should have referred to this as peace/hope. Peace that I'm okay. Peace that God will take care of everything. And, hope, that, "God had a plan for my life"

I thought that all "heathens" "Sinners" "unfaithful" "atheists" were doomed to live a horrible life eventually burning in the pit of hell for all eternity. This is part of why I kept my doubt quiet when I was younger (maybe 12 ish). Because I thought that my life would automatically be horrible and bad things happen to those who don't belive in God.

Here is all that I realized after leaving faith:

My Previous Faithful View: Something good happens - God Blessed Me - Something bad happens -- God is Testing Me, It's all in God's plan, God has a Reason, Etc.

My Current Non-Religious: Good things happen, bad things happen. Good things happen to Good people AND to bad people. Bad things happen to good people AND to bad people.

My dad's favorite saying, "It will all work out" and it does. There have been times where I have thought, "How I am going to get through this, or get the money for this, or get this job, etc." and it works out. My life is wonderful and even in rough times things get better. I have an amazing husband, a very supportive immediate family, a good career path, a great education, etc and none of it had to do with faith or luck or karma or whatever. (True, I have a horseshoe tattoo, but it's kind of ironic as I am "unlucky" - never win anything - but I also don't believe in luck.)

"God has a plan for my life." YOU have a plan for your life. People who are successful and claim it was "God" didn't just sit on the couch and suddenly become successful or happy, they had to work at it. Maybe faith was their motivation, maybe you need a new motivation or to revisit your old motivations.

Peace: Have peace in the confidence that you can handle your life. Fear is a huge motivator in religion, however you can ONLY control your own peace and happiness, you can't control the world around you so that has to start from within.

Whether you go back to religion is up to you. Do what you deem best, but this is just my experience and I have found that what I used to think was "God" really is just randomness in the way the world works, along with the fortune and path you make for yourself.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:50 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hope: Maybe I should have referred to this as peace/hope. Peace that I'm okay. Peace that God will take care of everything. And, hope, that, "God had a plan for my life"

The usual atheist answer for this is that you have traded a false sense of security for freedom. You can decide who you are and what the plan for your life is. You alone. No one else can tell you who you are and why you are here. That's both terrifying and exhilarating. The word you're looking for to describe what you're feeling is angst.
posted by empath at 1:07 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know much about God, but I've heard from reputable sources a number of interesting identities, including but not limited to the following:
  • God is love
  • God is truth
  • God is beauty
  • God is justice
  • God is everything
  • God is Nature
  • God is music
  • God is not knowing
  • God is right now
Simple logic thus yields a plethora of viable alternative interests when the symbol "God" has lost its value. The right-hand side of this system of equations has "enough to fill a man's heart." In any case, God probably can't be found as God, being unknowable and transcendent, so the manifold worldly manifestations are your best bet.

Perhaps you could read a book or two by thoughtful, educated theologians. I recently enjoyed A Rumor of Angels by Peter L. Berger, a pioneer of the sociology of knowledge with a perspective on religiosity that's very interesting and relevant.

Even the lack of faith can be a source of profound inspiration. It can even lead to deep mysticism. There are many works by atheists, or atheists struggling to be theists, that possess awesome spiritual courage and wonder. Camus, Wittgenstein, D. F. Wallace, Bodhidharma, Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, Bergman, Rorty, Russell, Sartre, Douglas Adams, Lagerkvist, -- the list goes on and on and on and on.
posted by mbrock at 1:09 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You probably lost your faith because you grew and developed beyond the simple version.

The most helpful observation I know of in this respect is that faith is an ongoing achievement, not a final state.
posted by Segundus at 1:20 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I by 'losing faith' you mean you gave up fantasy, the 'why' part is probably because you are paying attention. Knowledge is the largest threat to faith, and you can get along quite nicely without faith. God, regardless of where it has been defined, has always been the unknown. As knowledge grows, god shrinks, both on a personal and societal level.

The long term pursuit of knowledge is something that yields benefits and reliable results. You learn things, from basically an unlimited palette of subjects, and can apply these things to daily life. The cool part is that this activity actually influences daily life, though you are still subject to the random goings on of the universe and the future is never guaranteed. Still, on balance, it works a lot better than misplaced confidence that virtually NEVER achieves results (i.e. faith and prayer) unless you are praying for unseen things and accept that no results equals success.

The modern world offers little in the way of support to 'faith', and a helluva lot of support to science, humanism, hard work. Consider that you may have been 'saved' finally, and can finally cast aside the easy answers of the young, empty mind and move forward into uncertain, not-too-easy adulthood. Moving on is part of life. Leave behind what doesn't work in the continuing search for things that do.

There is nothing special about the random fact that you were born into the society whose predominant myths you formerly considered truth. Truth based on geographical chance isn't much in the way of truth. It's OK to look farther afield for the real thing. Hard, but OK.
posted by FauxScot at 2:32 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

- how do I find something equally as helpful in my life?
- faith played a very important role in emotionally stabilizing me and giving me hope

Have you considered that perhaps these questions themselves are part of the problem? One of Nietzsche's issues with Religion is that it is nihilistic and posits "hope" in something unattainable and outside the world. Heaven, God, Faith, these concepts that are mere appeasements of the pains of the social order around us - carrots that guide us towards others interests.

I think this is really what Marx had in mind by "Religion is the opium of the people". You will experience withdrawal symptoms from religion. Much like the heroin addict has the same sense of loss when they stop using - a loss of that calm sense, that oceanic feeling that comes with the rush of heroin.

If you look at the world around us there are a lot of reasons not to have hope. Increasing inequality, poverty, war, oppression. Religious hope is often little more than sticking ones head in the sand and ignoring the true injustices of the world.
posted by mary8nne at 2:42 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

oops. i read your question too quickly and didn't see that you went all the way from fundamentalist to atheist. so, you're probably not going to want to read a bunch of christian books. totally understandable. i do still think the first one i linked to a new kind of christian would really help explain what was wrong with the faith you grew up with and why you eventually felt it necessary to ditch it. i probably would have too if i'd grown up in that milieu. if you are interested in reading that book i'd be happy to buy you a copy. just memail your address.
posted by wildflower at 3:35 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might want to read the Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross.

Coming from a Catholic background it's a central text in the loss of religious comfort and hope (as part of spiritual development, though) It might give you an interesting alternative interpretation of doubt and spiritual dryness.
posted by ServSci at 4:15 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Think of a child who grows up thinking that their parents are all knowledgeable and can solve all problems. Imagine that one day, they find out that their parents do not know everything; in fact, they find out that some things that their parents "knew" and that the child believed too is actually wrong.

This happens to every child. But it does not matter as their parents are very real, and continue loving them and be present in their lives - even though they may lose their God-like status in the eye of the child.

Now, imagine instead that as the child discovers that their parents are not all knowing, they disappear and that the child is left alone, with no one to replace their parents.

This would be horrible. And it would be possibly be akin to what you are going through. You are an orphan that has been abandoned by parents that previously were always there to comfort you. And you are asking "how to I replace my parents"? I'm afraid that I have no answer to offer you as how one would go about this would likely be highly personal. However, I thought it might be useful to think of it using this analogy to help you rephrase your question in your quest for peace of mind.

Some people will use the above analogy to suggest that your parents are still there, and that the problem is with you who can't see them. I do not subscribe to this: there is no problem with you having lost your faith.

You mentioned that faith gave you hope ... Try living in the moment, enjoy life as you live through it rather than thinking of some unknown future that includes the time after which your body will have died.
posted by aroberge at 4:30 AM on April 23, 2013

I'm pretty much a life-long atheist - I had a passive/skeptical belief in a god until I was around 18 when I had a friend who tried her hardest for a year to get me to get saved - long talks about god and Jesus, etc. That caused me to really think about what she wanted and what I believed in, and my belief went from passive to nonexistent. I don't think you can un-think that and I think that is probably how you lost your faith.

I can relate to how you feel like you have a void in your life where religion played a role of comfort and support but I think you can find the support in other areas of your life - through volunteer work and stuff like that.

The spiritual comfort is a bit harder to come by. I sometimes wish there were an atheist version of the comfort of belief to get me through difficult times and when I struggle with my purpose in life. Reading philosophy can help to guide your thoughts, helping you to shape a new "faith" of your own. I've heard great things about meditation as well and I would suggest attending some sort of meditation workshop if you can and reading some books about it.
posted by fromageball at 4:51 AM on April 23, 2013

Here's my answer to a previous question along these lines. (There are lots of other good answers on that question, too!)

I used to be a conservative evangelical (though I wasn't a creationist: that's a lot less common in the UK, although I think it's becoming more so under the baleful influence of American evangelicals). I'd say that it's pretty common for people in that sort of environment to work out that their beliefs are false. A good thing about that sort of Christianity (compared to more liberal sorts) is that it does make definite claims. Alas for evangelicals, they're false :-)

So, you're not alone. Have some links:

I walked away... now what? is good for recent de-converts. The rest of the losingmyreligion site is good too, from what I remember.

Ex-Christian.net seems to have a lot going on, but I've never spent much time there.

Self promotion: I gave a talk to some atheists about what it's like being a Christian and then de-converting. I also wrote a long essay about why I left the church.

What I personally did next is was get quite interested in philosophy. De-converting gives you freedom to ask questions and doubt successfully (after all, you already managed that once).
posted by pw201 at 5:09 AM on April 23, 2013

I would like to recommend the following books to you:

* Annie Dillard, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
* Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
* Ron Miller, The Gospel of Thomas
* Ron Miller, The Hidden Gospel of Matthew
posted by goethean at 6:02 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

(both of the above authors are/were Christians)
posted by goethean at 6:03 AM on April 23, 2013

I've been an agnostic my whole life, and so the idea that someone would feel untethered because they're not sure that "God has a plan" is a little foreign for me. Did you know that belief in predetermination isn't unique to the religious? Read up a little bit on physical determinism; not all non-believers believe that free will is something that exists.

However, that might not be comforting to you. Fundamental to my agnosticism has been the belief that the universe doesn't particularly give a damn to me. Which is a scary thought to confront--over the years, I've been able to recognize how many people are religious because it gives them primacy in the universe. Reading the Tao is always comforting to me at the time when I feel overwhelmed by my insignificance, times when the universe feels random or strange. Taoism encourages you not to struggle against these precepts but accept them. Be unyielding; be small. Be at peace.

And know that, those times when you've spoken with "God," you've really only ever been talking to yourself. The times when you've seen signs or felt affirmation of belief? That was your brain, your marvelous brain, looking for patterns that confirmed your worldview. It doesn't really matter if some higher power has a plan for you. You have you--your consciousness, your desires, your beliefs. You are the actor that can make desire real in your life, this life, the only one you'll ever have. Once you stop striving, stop reaching for affirmation that you are important, you can focus instead on making choices that are good and ethical, that make good use of the meager time we have on this Earth. This, to me, has always been comforting. You don't need God. You have you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:25 AM on April 23, 2013

I don't like the idea (for myself) of me stepping in for God (ie, God has a plan/I have a plan). The reason God is comforting there is because God presumably has both wisdom and power that I know that I do not. I already personally tend towards being overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility and that doesn't help.

If you haven't, I recommend reading Katie Byron "Loving What Is". It's not directly on topic but it's brought me peace at times I needed it. I think where it might be helpful for you is to see that nothing's really changed since your crisis of faith, (if God doesn't exist and doesn't have a plan now, that was also true before, and the only real thing that's changed is your thoughts and feelings about it). But you are still you, muddling along the best you can.

I would also recommend seeking out support, whether formally or informally, from others who have been in your place. You're not alone.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:31 AM on April 23, 2013

I don't like the idea (for myself) of me stepping in for God (ie, God has a plan/I have a plan). The reason God is comforting there is because God presumably has both wisdom and power that I know that I do not. I already personally tend towards being overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility and that doesn't help.

Right, but I think this is fundamental to the journey of all a-religious people: confronting and accepting that there is no great wisdom in the universe. There are patterns--science can be a comfort when you're trying to discern meaning from chaos. But otherwise there's a lot of scary, chaotic stuff. I think the chaos is important to contemplate. It is, in fact, the source of all religion, as well as philosophy and science, even if, in practice, many religions skirt actually confronting these questions head-on in favor of relying on the beliefs of those before us. You might have questions of ethical belief; how does one choose what's moral and not when we don't have a higher power handing us laws about it? How do we define "goodness" if we don't have "Godliness"? You might have questions about decision making: if God doesn't have a plan for me, how do I make choices? You might decide that because there's no afterlife, you need to simply maximize the time spent on Earth via pursuit of joy. Or you might decide that you're like a leaf, floating through a stream, who is just going to experience what comes to you unadulterated. Or you might decide something else.

Because if you're not a person of faith (and in my experience, you can't force yourself to be), you need to decide what sort of person you are for yourself. And that's a very overwhelming, scary journey. But it can also be very spiritual. You can still be a person who contemplates, who journeys inward, who acts ethically and good. You just need to be the source of that contemplation, rather than some external being or framework.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:46 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I spent a good part of the night awake thinking about this question, and others' responses. There's just something a little insulting about the offhand assumption that the answer to your problem is "become religious again." No matter how well meant or intended. There's just an underlying assumption that of course you're not happy, you're an atheist and atheists can't be happy. I've actually been told that, both when I was a Christian and by people trying to return me to the fold, it's a huge undercurrent in Fundamental Christianity. In fact, I might just be oversensitive because of just how many times I've been told that my beliefs aren't REALLY my beliefs, they're just a phase; wouldn't I feel better if I started going to church again; all I need to do is have faith and I'll feel better; etc. The truth is, I am happy. I have a sense of community, a sense of purpose, and a sense of awe. They're all the more meaningful and important to me because I worked them out for myself.

So allow me to tell you a story from one of my favorite books, The Gods Drink Whiskey. It's a non-fiction account of the time Stephen Asma spent in Cambodia, I highly recommend it.

In part of the book he discusses these two groups who help the incredibly poor in that country. One group is Evangelical Christian Missionaries, and they only give aide to people who convert. It's common enough there's a name for the new converts "Rice Christians," the implication being they converted out of desperation for food, not out of any religious conviction The second group is an order in the Catholic church (I forget which one, it's not really important), and when they're approached by people who wish to convert, they do two things, they give them any aide they need, and then send them off to learn more about their own religion (usually Buddhism). They want any converts to be genuine and to know their own hearts.

Now I'm going to draw a parallel here. You have this need, and while it's not as vital to survival as food, it can still making you desperate. There are people who will suggest that the answer to your need can only be found in their religion, and you may just be desperate enough to accept that. Maybe in the end, you find yourself drawn to one particular religion, or it could be a philosophy, or even just general idea of spirituality that you come up with yourself. There is nothing wrong any of those choices, you've got a very real and very human need, you should find a way to fill that need. The key is to work that out for yourself, learn who you are, what you value, what you want to do with life, and then find the path that best fits that. Please, beware of people who use the filling of any need as bribery to join their side. Even if they mean well.

And just because it's important, and lies at the root of your unhappiness let me reiterate: Your life CAN have meaning and purpose without religion, you just have to work out what those are for yourself. Here's my advice for helping to work that out: Find some place you can be quite and just be. Take lots of walks. Think about what you admire in other people, and why you admire that. Think about one thing you'd like said about you at your funeral. Write things down. Read things others have written, think about how you'd reply to the author. Have deep conversations with friends (note: conversations, not have friends try and convert you). You probably won't have a sudden moment where everything becomes clear, but at some point you might wake up and realize that you're leading a fulfilling life, and have been for awhile.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:29 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

(Background: Orthodox Jew turned atheist)

You seem to feel ashamed that you lost your faith. Fundamentalist religions of course work hard to instill that shame in you in order to keep you. You did nothing wrong. The "faith" in question is just flat-out NOT TRUE, so the only thing you did to lose it was stop living in ignorance and/or denial. You should not feel ashamed, THEY should feel ashamed (if only they knew.)

Maybe you were more open-minded than your family. Maybe you were just less comfortable sheltering yourself from reality. Maybe part of you wanted to get out. Who knows? Regardless of the reason, you did nothing wrong. What is wrong is a system that convinces people they have to believe something that is demonstrably untrue in order to be a good person.

How do you find something equally helpful? Well, religion is the proverbial crutch. You can learn to stand and walk on your own. YOU can be your something equally helpful and more so. It takes some time. It may take some therapy (which I recommend to all people leaving fundamentalist religions.)

But ultimately, you should end up a stronger, more clear-eyed person because of your leaving the garden, as it were. Call me dramatic, but in a sense you have eaten from the tree of knowledge and been banished from the garden of innocence where everything was easy but you lived like a child, and you have become like a god (or at least an adult) instead.
posted by callmejay at 8:53 AM on April 23, 2013

Some secular people to read and possibly draw inspiration from: Sagan, Vonnegut, Feynmann, Einstein, Hawking. You might find something useful in mindfulness meditation and/or Buddhist philosophy or yoga.
posted by callmejay at 8:59 AM on April 23, 2013

We're all generally in agreement, I think; so my testimony won't be anything new, but it's mine.

My question is why did I lose my faith (when all my family still holds it dear)? And how do I find something equally as helpful in my life?

I'm not so sure that you lost "your faith" so much as you lost that one particular perspective on faith. Religion and faith can be very, very personal. And it can sometimes take a long time to figure out exactly what you do and don't think about it.

I have a feeling that a lot of people on Metafilter think that I'm Catholic, as I've argued quite passionately in support of the Catholic Church; but while I was raised Catholic, I don't call myself that any more, and haven't for 20 years. My own path was similar to yours - starting to have doubts at about the time I went to college (especially after a lot of talks with a lot of people in other faiths) followed by leaving the church. But the thing was, there were some things about Catholicism I didn't not like, so I was confused for a while.

I spent a while reading about and listening to and thinking about religion in general, and noticed that there is a lot of common ground amongst all the different religions - and that, plus something I'd been taught by the Catholic church myself (that even though there are other religions, often you can find that they say some of the same things - and that that is a good thing), led me to focus on finding a way to express my faith in a way that suited me rather than finding a specific faith to practice in. Moreover, I believed that God is absolutely cool with that - I was created unique, and so are you, and so are each of us, and it's better to find a way to live and believe that completely develops that uniqueness. Lots of people find that their faith path is echoed by the teachings of one church or another, but lots of other people don't.

And that freed me up to decide what elements of each religion I did or didn't like, and adopt them into my own cosmology as I chose. (Oddly enough, it brought me to make peace with Catholicism as well.) In the eyes of some, I'm sure I look like a "Cafeteria religious person" - I'm equally inspired by some Buddhist thought, some Sufi poetry, a couple of Jewish texts and different Christian ones as well. I still have the Bible I got for my confirmation, but that's next to the Tibetan Book of the Dead now, and I'm thinking of tracking down the Mayan Popul Vuh. I celebrate Easter, but I celebrate it by walking in the Botanic Garden; I also celebrate the Neo-Pagan holiday Imbolc (by taking another walk in the garden, usually). I think of God as "He" most of the time, except when it feels more comfortable to address God as "She" (and sometimes I do). And once in a blue moon I'll light a candle in front of the shrine to St. Brigid at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but the reason I've picked St. Brigid is because she was most likely a Celtic Goddess that St. Patrick "adopted". My own faith is some weird amalgam of early Judeo-Christianity combined with agricultural folk beliefs and with a bit of Eastern Mysticism stirred in.

And that is the faith pattern that works for me - and I found my way there by trusting that God made me how I am and must have known what He was doing, so if I was being who I honestly was, then God was cool with that. Even if it ultimately felt right to be an atheist (I may believe in God, but the God I believe in has no problem if people don't believe in Him - whatever works best for each of us, He's down with). After I decided to trust that, then the rest was just a lot of interesting reading and thinking about what I'd read, and deciding for myself whether one element or another worked for me or not. Moreover, I think that's ultimately the point - finding who you are and what works best FOR you.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:00 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, lot's of good discussion.

Why: maybe you started thinking for yourself!

The replacement: yeah, very very hard, and it will probably get harder. Most likely intellectually, if you've given it this much careful thought you don't need to worry about the slippery slope to axe-murderdom. For people, hang out where you like the people, if you're comfortable at a church, go for the music and munchies.

For the ideas, that's as big a lifetime project as you want to make it.

For family: you can hang out without flashing your atheist card, if there are pushy folks find a way to diffuse discussions, let them be.

I suspect there are vastly more atheists and agnostics in the world that are comfortable with letting others believe what ever they want, have no need to confront, and enjoy good company and good works, the music and just don't bother to mention that they stopped worrying about santa or whatever.
posted by sammyo at 10:38 AM on April 23, 2013

In my experience a lot of people "lose faith" because it was not something that belonged to them in the first place. They did religious things because they were told to, or because everyone around them was. However, I believe that true faith is something that we must find for ourselves. For the Christian faith, I believe habits such as reading the Bible, prayer, worship must be incorporated personally as a way of connecting to God rather than just as religious rituals performed around others. It is there that we find our connection to God and a personal relationship with him. As a great pastor said, it's one thing to know about God, but a different thing to know God. Blessings on your spiritual journey. Never fear doubt because doubt can bring us closer to God.
posted by roaring beast at 11:28 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I see that faith played a very important role in emotionally stabilizing me and giving me hope and I want something like that back."

Learn to have faith in yourself. I'm being quite serious.

Some people need to believe in a deity or in a higher power. You can be your higher power. Instead of looking outward for something to place your faith in, look inward. Learn to have faith in yourself.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:43 PM on April 23, 2013

Sometime after I lost my simple faith I realized I was unhappy and started to reflect: just what had I lost? Partly, a sense of community, the knowledge that there were people who loved me and understood me, and accepted me. Of course, they no longer accepted me when I quit going to church. I also missed the 'fairy tales' that I had learned in Sunday School. I knew these stories weren't true. Most of all I missed my prayer life.

Some of these are easy to remedy. If you live in a big city, there is probably a Unitarian/Universalist church there. Unitarians have no creed at all. So it is fine to be an atheist and attend services there. They won't reject you (at least not for being atheist).

Enjoy the 'fairy tales' on a different level. You don't have to believe the literal truth of Jesus's parables of the Gospels to learn from them or to appreciate them. Try to broaden your understanding by building on the foundation you have.

I have resumed my prayer life because it helps, even though I no longer believe in the God of my youth. It centers me, and comforts me. So I do it and I don't waste energy worrying about the contradiction. If it works, use it.

Relax, do the things that make you feel right in the world.
posted by RussHy at 5:45 PM on April 23, 2013

I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. My rupture with my faith came when, at 26, I realized that I am gay, something anathema to my community. That was nearly 40 years ago.

It took a long time for me to say out loud that I am an atheist. Along the way, the single most important time for me was right after I finished my post-graduate work at the not so tender age of 36. I had a month in the Ontario countryside, with the collected works of Emily Dickinson at hand. Nothing before or since has equaled that in terms of the wonder I felt at being in nature, with a doubter as my companion. While Dickinson herself might not have agreed, it is entirely possible to appreciate the miracle that is the world without God as an intermediary.

I can't tell you why you lost your faith. I can tell you that I lost mine when I realized that who I am failed to coincide with who people expected me to be. They told me that I am a blaspheming sinner condemned to hell; I knew that I was a good person. After that, in the fullness of time, the whole sham fell apart. At least in my experience, the narrowness of fundamentalist doctrine is all about three things: studied ignorance, belief in personal superiority over others and control of weak-minded followers.

Or to put it a little more charitably, if these people, who strived according to their best lights, are wrong, then religion must be a fabrication. I realize that many wouldn't agree, but that's where I ended up.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:20 PM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Who needs therapy when I can learn from ya'all?! Your questions are thought-provoking, your insights encouraging. Now, I will ponder what has been said (over and over), read some of the books suggested, and do my best to grow into my own person; identifying and living out my values.

Something tells me this is gonna take a while. ;)

A very sincere thank you to everyone here.
posted by learninguntilidie at 6:40 PM on April 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

One of my favorite books about religion, which is not at all in the vein of Richard Dawkins: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, by the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville. I am atheist and have never had faith (family was de facto agnostic, mother later converted but I remain unconvinced) although I envy those who do. This book helped me begin to make peace with having faith in the world without a God.
posted by serelliya at 3:48 PM on May 9, 2013

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